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Broadcasting, investments can create aspirational value for sports

MUMBAI: For interest in sports in this country to grow beyond cricket, the other sports have to be made aspirational. This can be done by sports persons excelling in the international arena. It can also be done through television broadcast. At the same time, a system needs to be put in place for other sports like what the BCCI has done for cricket.

These points were made at a session during the FICCI Frames convention for the business of media and entertainment. The session was called ‘The changing face of Indian sports’. The speakers were former cricket allrounder turned commentator Ravi Shastri, Transstadia founder, MD Udit Seth, PKL franchise Telugu Titans owner Srinivas Sreeramaneni and GroupM Media business head entertainment sports and live events Vinit Karnik.

Shastri noted the role that television has played in growing cricket’s popularity. It went into drawing rooms.

People are being educated about the game. People want to learn more about the game and the IPL broadcast on television is helping. Player fees as cricket broadcast grew went up dramatically from Rs 10,000 for a Test match to a few lakhs. Parents started thinking differently. He noted that a system has been put in place by the BCCI to spot and groom talent. So, there is the Under 15, Under 19. There is a club culture. He offered the example of the IPL saying that many jobs have been created around it like coaches, support staff, physios, etc.

Shastri also noted that television coverage also gives information about players like Virat Kohli’s fitness regime. So, viewers understand that there are no shortcuts to success.

In terms of non-cricket, while kabaddi and badminton are doing well, infrastructure is important. The BCCI runs cricket in a professional manner. If a professional body runs other sports to produce champions, then those sports can rise. A good investment plan run by professionals is needed for other sports to succeed. He noted that cricket matches now happen in places like Ranchi and that is because of the effort made by the system to spread the game.

Sreeramaneni made the point about sports needing an aspirational value. PV Sindhu’s performance has given badminton a huge fillip. Now it is tough to get into the Gopichand Academy.

Sreeramaneni also referred to the work that Star has done around the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL). This includes a grassroots programme. Basically, before the PKL people had forgotten about kabaddi. But the franchise owners got a call from Anand Mahindra, who wanted kabaddi to be pushed similar to the way judo was done in Japan. PKL players are farmers’ children and they make Rs 4–5 million. This has created an aspirational value. The need is to invest properly in a sport and take it forward. To attract investors, a constructive programme has to be put forth.

Seth noted that Indian players need to do well in sport for it to have a following. Sport needs to be a part of the education system or else the country will have to be satisfied with accidental Olympic medals. On the infrastructure front, he noted that many stadiums need to be refurbished as when they were constructed little thought was paid to what the fans and broadcasters wanted. These stadiums have a 20,000-seating capacity.

Karnik noted that non-cricket sports account for 20% of the ad pie. For the share to rise to 30–40%, work needs to be done. Advertisers use non-cricket sports for incremental reach and deliveries over and above what cricket delivers. The ecosystem has to grow bottom up. So, schools and colleges need to inculcate sport. Sports federations have risen above themselves for commercial partners to come in. He also feels there is scope for CSR initiatives in sport.

The session also noted that the relationship between the Ministry and sports federations needs a better structure. Money needs to be carefully doled out. For instance, fencing will not make money, but if it can give you a medal, then investing is worth it.

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